Starved Consoles: The Launch Dilemma
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Anyone who owns or is interested in a Wii U or PS Vita knows just how limited their choice of games is. Actually, scratch that; I can barely see that statement since there’s so much sugar on it. It’s more accurate to say that, currently, there’s practically nothing to play on the things. They may support backwards compatibility to some degree, but that doesn’t fill the gap of having so few quality releases.

Interestingly enough, however, the Wii U has a ton of new games headed its way this year—though I can’t say the same for the Vita. Why, then, did the Wii U make its debut with buta stark few titles at its disposal? After all, most Wii U owners have their eyes on Bayonetta 2, Rayman Legends, Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate, or Pikmin 3, and some of those are months away. This begs the question, “Why not delay consoles until the big, popular games and exclusives are ready?”

In a perfect world, Nintendo could just snap their creative fingers and whisk those four titles into completion right now. Unfortunately, games take time to make, and media superpowers have their schedules. Even so, Microsoft and Sony aren’t exactly lining the shelves with their next consoles; they’re just now getting clear of the rumor phase, so Nintendo wasn’t under too much pressure to beat out the competition, though I’m sure that played a factor. But the risk of having another company beat you to the premature punch is far outclassed by the option of throwing a fully-loaded console onto the market.

Think about it. A console’s launch has a very simple but difficult job: It has to put enough units into the market to support coming releases, and make a name for itself among the critiquing community. So basically, it’s a glorified popularity contest. Well, nothing generates popularity like good games, right? Every system will attest to that. The PlayStation 3 was initially supported by name-brand titles like God of War III, Metal Gear Solid 4, and Devil May Cry 4, which were so good that they almost justified the ridiculous price tag. The Xbox 360 was hardly any different; Call of Duty, Halo, and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion did most of the talking in its early phase. And again, the Wii U has some promising titles coming in 2013.

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This is where marketing gets interesting. Let’s go back to the ideal world where we already have Pikmin 3. In fact, let’s take it a step further. What if consoles were only released once they have games of that grand a caliber ready for them? I’m talking Persona 5, Assassin’s Creed IV,The Elder Scrolls VI, and Metroid 4 grand. (Those are all painfully hypothetical by the way, so lower the heart rate. Someday, though.) It’s truly not that hard to imagine. Simply put, the system would blast right through the awkward stage of release that we’re facing now—the phase where early buyers have nothing to play—and straight into a state of unparalleled success.

You couldn’t keep Pikmin 3 Wii U bundles in stock if they were guarded with iron chains and attack dogs, and a new Final Fantasy Tactics would’ve sent the Vita skyrocketing. I can list pipe-dream launch bundles all day, but the point remains the same: If a system is already chock-full of great, popular, and fan-approved games at launch, it will sell exponentially better. After all, what’s the point of putting a system out early if there’s nothing for us to do with it? This is a huge, competitive industry, and anything stagnant is usually undesirable. Gathering dust in a GameStop will only hurt a console’s reputation, in turn deterring consumers from buying it once good, console-selling games are available.

So, why not wait? What could be easier than doing nothing? Developers could literally sit on their new console until the games are ready, and it won’t cost them a dime. Who cares if Big Business Inc. puts their system out a few months before you if your Box O’ Gaming offers several fantastic titles from the get-go? Competition doesn’t matter if you’re holding a royal flush. As long as your new system doesn’t come out the day after the competition, when wallets have recently undergone some serious culling, you’re golden. But obviously we can’t wait forever; that’s how things wind up in gaming Limbo, and earn a spot on one of our depressingly accurate “Top 10 Things that Didn’t Get to Make the World Better” lists. 

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There are, however, a few issues when you ask big companies to wait and play nice, as well as more than a few “if/then” questions that come up. This scenario doesn’t account for the various needs of developers who want to push their game out as soon as possible. On the pessimist side of the aforementioned ideal world, we have a hypothetical like this: If a console is delayed in anticipation of Games One, Two, and Three, but Two won’t be ready for another month, One and Three are stuck. Meanwhile, their respective developers are biting their nails impatiently as they miss potential revenue by the day. This sort of situation could be avoided with some proactive deadline-setting and mutual cooperation between developers, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I would sooner expect gamers and politicians to get along than game developers.

All things accounted for, the benefits that this scenario could offer far outweigh the annoyance of waiting. The current generation of consoles would get an extension on its golden age, the newer generation would start with a proper bang, and developers wouldhave ample time to maximize the quality of their new releases. There’s even a business tactic tucked in there somewhere. What do you think the competition will do if you’re constantly holding a completed system over their head? They’re going to rush to get theirs ready as a veritable countermeasure, which means their product’s quality will degrade as a result. And just when they throw their haphazardly made product onto the market, boom; enter the game-packed console. Sales of a system that’s loaded with games would dwarf the hastily launched competition.

If you ask me, delayed console releases are too tyrannically brilliant to stay a pipe dream. Then again, maybe I’ve just been playing too much Valkyria Chronicles. 

 

 

By
Austin Wood
Lead Contributor
Date: February 12, 2013
 

 

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